Thu, 21 Oct 2021

The border between Kosovo and Serbia has remained blocked for a third straight day by ethnic Serbs protesting a decision by the Pristina authorities to start removing Serbian license plates from cars entering the country.

The ongoing dispute has raised fears that it may unleash much deeper tensions between the two neighbors.

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on September 22 that his country and Serbia should start recognizing each other's car license plates to allow free movement of people and goods and ease border tensions.

Kurti called on Serbs to move vehicles away 'because they are blocking themselves.' A few hundred Serbs spent the night in tents and blocked the roads to the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings with trucks.

They were now camping in tents by the trucks parked in the middle of the roads leading to the border.

'Our offer is very practical, let's lift the temporary plates, in Serbia and in Kosovo,' Kurti said at a government meeting.

'Neither our state or citizens nor Kosovar Serbs or Serbia are interested in incidents and escalation' of the tension, Kurti said, accusing Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of being the 'only one individual...interested in that. We are for dialogue.'

Tensions soared on September 20 when Kosovo special police with armored vehicles were sent to the border to impose the same rule of temporarily replacing Serbian license plates on cars while they are in Kosovo.

Serbia, which doesn't recognize its former province as a separate state and considers its border with Kosovo an 'administrative' and temporary boundary, has for years taken off registration plates from Kosovo-registered cars entering Serbia. Drivers need to pay five euros (nearly $6) for a 60-day temporary license plate.

Kosovar authorities say a 2016 deal reached in European Union-mediated talks had expired and only proper Kosovar symbols were now valid.

Vucic, who convened a session of the national Security Council on September 21, described Kosovo's decision as a 'criminal action' and urged Pristina to withdraw all troops, 'then we can go to Brussels and discuss everything and possibly reach an agreement.'

Vucic convened the session to discuss the measures that Belgrade will take 'if Kosovo does not change its decision.' He said that the measures would primarily be economic.

The EU and United States urged Kosovo and Serbia to exercise restraint 'immediately, without any delay,' and refrain from unilateral actions.

Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani met with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in New York and urged the bloc that 'efforts on tensioning [sic] and destabilization from illegal structures supported by Serbia should be judged from the EU.'

In a tweet on September 22, EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi urged both Kosovo and Serbia 'to exercise restraint and deescalate the tensions, return to dialogue and ensure freedom of movement without delay. Unilateral actions are never a solution. They only lead to unnecessary tensions and should be withdrawn.'

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036

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